VI. Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s Executive Vice President recently said that those speaking out for gun control wish “to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedom so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.” We have often had overheated political rhetoric in the country, but I still find these claims astounding and even more astounding that people like LaPierre have convinced many others that such nonsense is true. I have yet to see any credible attempt to eliminate the Second Amendment, something that would be incredibly hard to accomplish.
I also don’t understand the basis for the second part of LaPierre’s demagoguery, which implies that gun rights are the foundation for the rest of our individual rights. I don’t pretend to be the most accomplished historian, but I have read the constitutional debate notes kept by James Madison. I have read the Federalist papers. I have read the collection of documents by those who opposed the adoption of the constitution. I have done research in American newspapers from 1765-1800. In all this reading, I don’t remember that a dominant theme was that the individual right to keep firearms was the basis of all our other rights. This claim did not seriously emerge until the end of the twentieth century.
I have also been struggling to think of examples when the individual right to keep and bear arms has preserved other individual rights. Perhaps it can be claimed that property has been made more secure by firearms, but what about all those other rights? When has carrying a gun preserved your right of free speech or your right to a jury trial?
Now try to think of when one person carrying a firearm has deprived others of their rights. Our history is filled with examples of guns used to prevent others from speaking freely or peaceably assembling. Every time a gun has been used in a robbery it has been used to deny someone’s right to property. Every time a gun has been used in a murder or wounding or even in an accidental shooting, the bearer of that gun has denied the individual rights of others. Nikolas Cruz, according to many, had a right to buy, keep, and bear an AR-15. How did that work out for preserving all the other individual rights?
VII. The majority of the people in this country do not possess firearms and yet they are able to exercise their rights. They speak freely, go to church, and vote. Their rights have not been taken away because they don’t have a gun.
VIII. Gun control advocates have tried to get politicians to reject money from the NRA. The real power of the NRA comes not so much from its funds but from its ability to marshal bloc voting in favor of what it considers Second Amendment rights. For example, the Colorado legislature a while ago passed gun control measures. The NRA went to work and got recall elections against some of the supporters of the legislation. Stories like that scare politicians about the consequences of opposing the NRA.
The fear of that power needs to be broken if we are ever to advance towards sensible gun measures. Here’s my suggestion: Gun control organizations should identify five or so legislative districts in each state that might be swing districts where the incumbent follows the NRA line. Time, money, and effort should be concentrated by gun control organizations on these relatively small number of elections. Gun control advocates would not have to win all these elections to have an impact. If thirty or forty state legislative incumbents lost their positions at least partly because they were allied with the NRA, the NRA would start to look less invincible. Only when legislators begin to think that they could lose their seats because of their support of the NRA will the NRA’s hold on this country start to lessen. (To be concluded on March 9.)